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Conflicting interests affect PR firms’ environmental commitments

"Conflicting Interests"
“Conflicting Interests”

Recent studies have raised concerns over potential conflicts of interest at major public relations and advertising firms, such as Omnicom Group, WPP, Interpublic Group (IPG), Publicis Groupe, Dentsu, and Havas. Over one-third of board members from these companies hold roles in high greenhouse gas emitting industries, which may influence how they balance their corporate commitments and environmental responsibilities.

These companies earned a collective $67 billion in 2022 and maintain global influence. The duality of their roles highlights a need for stricter regulations to ensure they uphold their ecological commitments. This dichotomy is evident in their massive carbon footprint and their contribution to the global economy.

Environmental activists highlight potential conflicts of interest as these companies promise to reduce in-house emissions and strive for carbon neutrality. The dual roles of board members could hinder these endeavors and criticism has been leveled at the sincerity of their environmental pledges.

The PR and advertising industry has been criticized for a lack of commitment to climate action. They do not face the same pressures as other industries to transition to cleaner energy options.

Conflicts muddle environmental pledges of PR firms

While initiatives are in place, they are often an “afterthought” rather than being integral to the core strategies of these companies.

Younger employees of these companies express disappointment in the lack of substantial environmental efforts taken by their employers. These companies have announced net-zero ambitions, but these do not consider the carbon footprint of their promotional activities. This has lead to a perceived gap between public declarations and actual actions.

The Ad Net Zero movement sidesteps the need to consider the environmental impact of their advertising campaigns on high-emitting clients. It also fails to address future implications of “advertised emissions”. The 2023 report from Dentsu revealed that its 2022 advertised emissions were 32 times higher than its operational emissions, but these were not included in its net-zero commitments.

In contrast, IPG was the only company among the six that addressed its relationship with high-emission clients in 2022. It required these clients to set specific emission reduction goals. This highlights the need for a shift in mindset in the PR and advertising industry to view sustainability as integral to business operations rather than an optional extra.

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